Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

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Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

He said he felt “really great.” He said he was “pain free.” He said he was in a “really good position to progress.” He said so a week ago.

On Thursday, Cole Hamels said something different.

The lefthander, who is dealing with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, informed reporters in Clearwater that his body was telling him to “take a step back and start over.” How do you take a step back from feeling really great and pain free? That is some curious footwork.

“I felt good when I threw my last bullpen, everything was great,” Hamels said about last Saturday’s session. “But later that day and the next day, my arm felt fatigued. After 35 pitches, my body felt like I had thrown 1,000.”

That is a powerful and troubling statement. Here’s what you prefer not to hear from your 30-year-old front-of-rotation pitcher: That throwing a handful of pitches in early March makes him feel like his arm might fall off. That is generally bad news for a team that's counting on the same pitcher to help the Phils recover from last season's dreadful campaign.

Hamels said the best way to describe his condition is “dead arm or frozen arm.” You’re forgiven if the colloquialisms don’t anesthetize your concerns. You’re also forgiven if you don’t quite understand why Hamels said there are no plans for a cortisone injection or even an MRI.

How is that possible? How is it that the Phillies' front office isn’t insisting on extensive tests? Hamels is on a six-year, $144 million contract. For that kind of money, Ruben Amaro Jr. should load him into a car and take him to the hospital every time Hamels gets the sniffles. You can’t be too careful.

A week ago, Hamels trumpeted his progression. Now we’re left to talk about this unexpected regression. Or maybe it’s not so unexpected. This is how the last few spring trainings have gone for the Phillies. If spring is about hope for most teams, it has recently been something much darker for the Phils.

A year ago, Roy Halladay showed up in Clearwater and said he felt better than he had in a while. He imploded early in the season, had surgery, made a brief return, was eventually shut down again, and then retired. You might recall he had arm fatigue.

Last spring, Ryan Howard reported to camp and declared he felt fine. He had been dealing with Achilles and knee issues but said he was healthy. Then he played 80 games last season. He played 71 the year before. If you’re wondering, he came to spring training this year and said he’s ship-shape.

In February 2011, Chase Utley said he had some knee pain that “comes and goes.” He was listed as day-to-day, which was technically true. Days came and days went and Utley missed the first 46 games of that season. He played 103 games in 2011.

Utley also reported knee pain during spring training in 2012. Again, it was explained as a wait-and-see thing. Utley chose therapy over surgery. He missed the first 77 outings that season and appeared in just 83 games.

The observant have no doubt recognized a disquieting pattern. Player shows up for spring training. Player is dealing with some physical issue. Player says there’s nothing to worry about. Player suffers a setback. Nothing to worry about becomes something. And now here we are once more, mired in injury limbo with a younger player (relatively speaking) the Phils can ill-afford to lose.

“I think, ultimately, when people think shoulder and not being able to throw a baseball, they think injuries, tears, the pain indication,” Hamels said. “It’s not that. It’s really tired and it was kind of more difficult to go through the throwing motion, let alone try to throw something very competitive.

“The shoulder really doesn’t want to throw the ball the way I want to against hitters. My muscles just weren’t responding. And you have to listen to the way your body responds.”

You have to wonder how this continues to happen and who’s ultimately responsible. Because the way it keeps playing out, it feels like the Phils' medical evaluation protocol mirrors what used to occur in pick-up games in your neighbor’s backyard. Someone would hurt something, and then someone else would ask if he’s OK, and then the first someone would say yes. We’re at the point now where it wouldn’t be surprising if Hamels said he would try to walk it off or rub some dirt on it.

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

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Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci, who it seems like has been in the organization forever, was promoted Thursday from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Tocci, who turns 22 on Aug. 23, has been in the Phillies' organization since he was 16 years old. He's taken some pretty big steps forward offensively the last three seasons as he's gained muscle and experience, and this season he's hit a career-best .307/.362/.398 in 474 plate appearances.

Recent promotions to the majors of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Cameron Perkins have created openings in the Lehigh Valley lineup. Tocci will likely play center field, where he's committed just one error in 801⅓ innings this season.

Tocci will likely be added to the Phillies' 40-man roster this winter to prevent another team from plucking him away in December's Rule 5 draft. The Phils may have to make a decision between Tocci and oft-injured Roman Quinn (see story), though there are several other replaceable players on the 40.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

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Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.